According to an article published in 2012 by Dr. Glenn Croston in Psychology Today, The fear of public speaking routinely ranks higher than the fear of death on self-reported inventories of fear and anxiety. This means that situational anxiety out ranks death! Another form of situational anxiety that seems to be pervasive is exam anxiety. The symptoms, which are similar and many times identical to many forms of situational anxiety, are categorized into three clusters of symptoms: Cognitive and Behavior, Physical, and Emotional
The Physical Symptoms
So, have you ever noticed that either just before taking an exam you might be sweating where other students don’t look like they are? It might mean that you are exhibiting signs of test anxiety. Just before a test try holding your hand stright-out check to see if your hand is shaking. This of course only works if you are not loaded up on caffeine or other stimulants because of craming the previous night! As the scantrons and blue books are being passed our do you sense your heart rapidly beating? Some have even reported fainting and nausea just before taking MCAT’s and tests like the state bar!
The Cognitive and Behavioral Symptoms
Some students report that they just blank out because of anxiety! After reviewing the exam, many report remembering that they studied the specific content of the exam but the answers just did not come to mind. Some even turn to illegal substance abuse or even dropping out rather then pushing through academic stress. While others report that thoughts race through their heads and it is hard to concentrate on the exam. Some fake being sick so that they can test in a private area or at a time when very few others are around. Still others report being aggresive and or being short with people on the day or night before the exam.
The emotional symptoms often are depression, low self-esteem, frustration, and a sense of not being worthy of the subject that they are trying to study. Students often have the sense that no matter how hard they study that they will never get grades that are good enough. The depression as a result of this form of situational anxiety could lead to binge drinking and excessive partying . In young women, test anxiety could even lead to fluctuations in weight.
What can a student do!
The first thing any student should do is talk to a counselor at school. Your school may have services that you are not taking advantage of and many of them are private. Also, Finding a study group and actively contributing to it can help boost confidence. Studying as a group helps form friendly connections and the research shows that people who study in groups get better grades. Also, many times if a student is anxious about an exam they are not the only one and sharing anxiety with other people seems to help. Talk to your TA and/or Professor, many of them are there to help you and you might be suprised that they suffered from the vary same symptoms throughout thier career.
Diet, Supplements, and Herbs for Situational Anxiety
As with many things, regular exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep can help your body cope with situational anxiety. Exercise as a routine in a students life is highly correlated to lower drop-out rates and better performance in undergraduates. It is always recommended that you exercise with a friend, because it builds accountability on both parties to keep the routine going and it is safer.
Many herbal companies claim to have products that help with anxiety, however, caveat emptor! Unless the company has an NSF certification for the products that it produces it is possible that you are not getting what you pay for and it may not be safe. Companies like Nature’s Sunshine, who have the NSF certification, sell through distributors like www.SunshineandHerbs.com Nature’s Sunshine has a patented product called Nature’s Sunshine Anxiousless that contains four ingredients that are suppose to act like a shotgun approach to situational anxiety.
What is in Nature’s Sunshine Anxiousless?
Anxiousless has five ingredients that work together to help your body deal with stress and anxiety. The main active ingredient Zembrin ( an extract of Sceletium tortuosum) has been identified by the American Food and Drug Agency (FDA) with a GRAS certification. A GRAS certicifaction, without getting to bogged down on the technical jargon, means that it is Generally Reconized As Safe. Sceletium Tortuosum is a flower harvested in South Africa, it has been used for centuries to help aid the anxiety steming from food insecurity. However, it can also be used for types of situational anxiety, such as exam anxiety. In addition to helping with calming the body, it reduces appetite.
One other active ingredient is L-Theanine found in certain types of green tea has been shown to calm the mind. In addition to calming the mind, one korean study has shown that it may improve attention and memory! So, for exam anxiety, one would be getting a double wammy! The rest of the ingredients Thiamin, a naturally occuring amino acid, Magnesium and Zinc have been shown in clinical studies have been shown to help support the ability of the human nervous system to stay balanced. Thiamin, also has been shown to improve levels of GABA in human subjects.